Mixed reaction to radical report on future care of Ulster’s elderly

A LEADING age charity has welcomed the health minister’s statement on the Compton review saying it will consider the proposals carefully.

The care of older people in Northern Ireland features heavily in the report with the elderly having a greater reliance on health care than any other age group.

Age NI chief executive Anne O’Reilly said: “We hope this is a thorough fundamental review of social care that will put forward radical and sustainable changes to fix our broken social care system.

“We need to future-proof health and social care now, so that people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s will have a system in place that actually meets their needs.”

At any given time around 60 per cent of acute hospital beds are occupied by people over 65 — and around 23,000 older people receive domiciliary care equating to over 233,273 hours of care each week.

Ms O’Reilly said it was important that older people can “continue to engage socially and maintain self-esteem, dignity and purpose,” and added: “Strong political commitment and leadership will be needed to achieve a health and social care system that incorporates this vision.”

The Royal College of Nursing has also welcomed the report saying “nurses are ready for change” so long as it is done in the right way and for the right reasons.

Janice Smyth, RCN NI director, said: “It is essential to build a health service that provides the best possible care for patients and sometimes uncomfortable decisions need to be made in order to achieve this.

“It comes as no surprise that the review has recommended providing more services in people’s homes and communities and putting the patient at the heart of the service. The RCN has said consistently that this shift towards the community will only come about if it is properly planned, well-resourced and underpinned by good workforce planning. We welcome the reallocation of resources from hospitals to the community in order to achieve this.”

However, health workers union Unison says it has concerns over any moves to “privatise and outsource” residential care and care in the home for older people.

A Unision spokeswoman said the review team’s chairman John Compton has already presided over health board decisions to reduce the number of hospitals and cut budgets.

Claiming the “narrative of the review is not new,” the spokeswoman said: “Many of the proposals have been made in the past by unions and other stakeholders. Many of the proposals are long overdue but they require investment.”

The Unison spokeswoman added: “However when we come to the core of the report we find a five per cent reduction in hospital services budget, a pathetic increase of only two per cent in the social services budget and a wholly inadequate three per cent increase in the family services budget. None of this comes anywhere near the resources needed for mental health, care of older persons or children’s services and much of it is a charter for privatisation.”

Majella McCloskey, chief executive of CO3 — an organisation representing leaders in the voluntary and community sector — said: “We now have a challenge to get deeper into the detail of the review published yesterday.

“On first examination, we are encouraged to see the emphasis on the preventative and sustainable approach that the comprehensive report highlights, ahead of the potential re-structuring of the health and social care service in Northern Ireland,” she said.

Hugh Mills of Independent Health and Care Providers said: “Our members are reporting cuts in home help hours and cuts in the rates paid for day care and care at home. We have concerns about older people becoming socially isolated as care is reduced and services such as help with shopping, provision of meals, cleaning and laundry are withdrawn.”